2021 • R&B/POP • RCA
On Heaux Tales, Jazmine Sullivan delivers her best. Intimate and inclusive testimonies fill the gaps in captivating, well-written, and well-produced tracks that work sex, love, and relationships in a unique way.
“I wrote Heaux Tales to give a voice to every woman. We’re deserving of respect whether we work as a CEO of a company or we stripping. It’s about unity. It’s about boldness,” said Jasmine Sullivan at the release of her latest project, Heaux Tales. It is her first album in five years, following 2008’s Fearless, 2010’s Love Me Back, and 2015’s Reality Show. Although these projects have been released in a spaced-out way in Sullivan’s two decades of career, in the past few years she has not been standing, writing music for Jennifer Hudson and collaborating with Kendrick Lamar. However, it is now, with Heaux Tales, that she presents her best.
Heaux Tales is the most daring and cohesive project that Sullivan has released to date. It features eight songs that are connected by six spoken-word tracks narrated by several other women. Although it was released as an EP, it is complete as an album, working on themes such as sex, love, security, self-esteem, sadness, and relationship through sharp stories that look like popular folk legends. Its lyrics are direct and sure of themselves and their opinions, and its instrumentals are full of memorable, strong, and spiritual vocals and chords. Both form a set that generates an expansive, objective, and an intimate project that’s also totally inclusive.
Ironically, the best part of the album is not the songs themselves, but the little spoken word tracks that are narrated by other women and tell these extremely rich and interesting stories. From frustrations related to unsuccessful relationships to monetary ambition, these stories and visions sum up Sullivan’s initial goal with this album, give a voice to every woman. In “Antoinette’s Tale,” for example, we see Antoinette Henry debating the fact that society does not accept the fact that women have the same sexual freedoms as men, and in “Ari’s Tale” we see Ari Lennox collapsing about the fact that people always talk bad things about women who show their sexual desires. Meanwhile, Precious talks about empowerment by making a correlation with money in “Precious’ Tale,” and Amanda Henderson, in “Amanda’s Tale,” wonders about her confidence in herself and her strength in staying alone. All of these stories are like little testimonies of normal women, and although they are relatively short, they carried the essential element, the truth.
However, the two best testimonies are those made by Donna and Rashida. At first the one, we heard a woman, probably an older woman due to the characteristic of her voice, talking about deceiving men with sex to get what you want in return. While an electronic church organ frantically plays in the background, other women enter the discussion, mocking the situation, while Donna still talks about using sex as a weapon to get what she wants is not cool. In the second, we have the most different of the album, being the only spoken word track that presents the woman in a moment of pain because of a relationship. Rashida talks about a girl she met and fell in love with and later cheated on. While vocals sound beautifully and majestic in the background, we hear her saying, “It crushed her and when it hurt her, it hurt.” Hardly Jazmine would have taken so much truth and so much sentimentality from a usual track.
But that doesn’t mean that Heaux Tales doesn’t have good tracks, on the contrary. Several songs are catchy, well written, and well-produced, with impressive vocals. “Pick Up Your Feelings,” for example, is a letter to an ex-partner that Sullivan wants to forget. While the track sounds like a timeless r&b work, she sings, “You need to hurry and pick up your, ooh-ooh, feelings/While I’m up cleaning.” On the other hand, “Lost One,” is the depiction of Rashida’s story, with Sullivan singing about losing someone you and being unable to move on. “Sometimes it’s too late, to make amends,” she sings as bass tugs sound far and the vocals are worked in complex layers. This is probably the most beautiful track, both in sound and lyrics.
Unfortunately, Heaux Tales has weak tracks that most of the time end up being damaged by its inability to stand out in the middle of the other songs. Although “Put It Down” and “On It,” with Ari Lennox, have catchy hook and lyrics that talk about important topics, like abusive relationships and valuing yourself, they ended up looking longer than they should have and seem like a generic and r&b track. Likewise, the album opener, “Bodies,” narrates the life of a woman who gets drunk, sleeps with men, and accepts that this is her life. Unfortunately, this track seemed too weak to open the album — “Antoinette’s Tale” would have done a better job. Finally, “Girl Like Me,” with H.E.R., talks about women deeming themselves insufficient after a relationship ends, but the generic instrumental that sounds like a weak and cheap sample really makes the track too lukewarm. Fortunately, none of these points are strong enough to make Heaux Tales not good.